Sunday, November 9, 2014

The worst single-postseason pitching performances of all time

Since the last installment in this series was the exploration of the ten best Championship Probability Added scores ever achieved by a pitcher in a single postseason, the natural (if slightly morbid) successor to that topic is the opposite: the pitchers who did the most harm to their teams’ chances of winning the title. Here they are, in worsening order:

10. Bob Friend, 1960 (-.379 CPA)

Friend pitched for the 1960 Pirates, who were famously outscored 55-27 over the seven-game World Series and still came out on top. He started the second and sixth games of that contest, both of which were disasters for Pittsburgh. In Game 2, Friend pitched 4 innings, allowing 6 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs (2 earned) before departing. His relievers fared much worse, and the game’s final score was 16-3. Game 6 went similarly for the Pirates, but worse for Friend in particular; he was pulled in the third without retiring a batter in that inning, having allowed 5 runs on 5 hits, a walk, and a pair of HBPs. Whitey Ford and the Yankees took the game 12-0 to send the Series to a seventh and decisive contest.

We will talk more (much more) about Game 7 of the ’60 Series later, but let’s just cover Friend’s brief part in it for now. The Pirates took a 9-7 lead into the ninth inning, and put Friend on the mound hoping to secure it. He allowed a single to Bobby Richardson, a single to pinch hitter Dale Long, and was pulled before retiring a batter. The Yankees would go on to tie the score, with the tying runs charged to Friend.

Friend’s three appearances resulted in a pretty bad start, a very bad start (in a potential Series-clincher), and a pretty bad and mercifully brief relief outing (in Game 7). He was both consistently and importantly damaging to Pittsburgh’s hopes, and that’s why he’s here.

9. Don Newcombe, 1956 (-.390 CPA)

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the Brooklyn Dodgers lost the World Series a whole lot: 1941, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53, and ’56, to be exact, countered by a lone triumph in 1955 (plus another win in '59 after moving to LA). Newcombe was the ace of some of those teams, so it makes sense that he would play a significant role for them in the Series – and sadly, in 1956, that role was far from a positive one.

Newcombe made two starts in the ’56 Fall Classic. The first came in Game 2; he allowed a run in the first, then five more in the second before being pulled. Surprisingly, the Dodgers countered with six runs in the bottom of the second and went on to win the game and take a 2-0 lead in the series. But the Yankees won three of the next four, and Newcombe was called upon again in Game 7.

His start went better than it had in Game 2 – but not by much. He lasted into the fourth, but failed to register an out in that inning, giving up three homers and five runs total. And the Dodger lineup didn’t bail him out this time, as Johnny Kucks threw a shutout and the Yanks took the title 9-0.

In hindsight, Newcombe’s efforts weren’t entirely crippling to the Dodgers; they won his first start in spite of his ineffectiveness, and they likely would have lost the second even if he’d pitched well. But CPA measures impact as it occurs in the games, rather than using hindsight, and the 1956 NL MVP was disastrous when viewed through that lens.

8. Ed Summers, 1909 (-.396 CPA)

The story of Ed Summers’s 1909 postseason begins a year earlier, as Summers’s Tigers faced the Cubs in the 1908 Series. Summers made two appearances in that matchup, a disaster of a relief appearance that cost Detroit the tightly-contested first game and a solid start that proved insufficient to win the fourth. That performance helped usher the Tigers down to defeat, and ranks twenty-first on this list.

The next season gave Summers another crack at it, this time against the Pirates. Tied at a game apiece, the Tigers gave him the ball in Game 3. Summers responded by not allowing an earned run – but his teammates committed a startling four errors in the first inning, and the five unearned runs that Pittsburgh scored chased Summers from the mound after only one out was recorded. Detroit went on to an 8-6 defeat that wasn’t as close as the score. (It should be noted that Summers was not entirely blameless here, as he gave up three hits, a walk, and a wild pitch.)

The one bright side to the horror of Game 3 was that Summers expended very little energy in his abbreviated outing. As such, after evening the series in Game 4, the Tigers sent him back to the mound to face Babe Adams in Game 5. Detroit scored once in the first, but Summers gave up single runs in the first, second, and third to put them behind. He recovered, however, containing the potent Pittsburgh attack for the next three innings, and his teammates evened the score at 3 in the sixth.

Then came the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Summers allowed a pair of singles that put runners at the corners and brought future Hall of Famer Fred Clarke to the plate. It should be noted that this was the Deadball Era, so Clarke, the #3 hitter on the pennant winning team and a first-class star, had hit three home runs all season. Naturally, Summers served up a homer, putting the Pirates ahead 6-3. He would allow one more run in the inning and another in the eighth, going down to an 8-4 defeat. And after winning the sixth game, the Tigers would sputter once more against Babe Adams and lose the first seven-game Series ever played.

It's now been over a century since the end of Ed Summers's rather undistinguished career, and he is understandably unknown to modern baseball fans. But his rather dreadful work in both of the World Series he pitched in give him a surprising distinction: by Championship Probability Added, he is the worst postseason pitcher of all time.

7. Bob Stanley, 1986 (-.409 CPA)

Stanley made eight relief appearances in the 1986 playoffs. Six of them were utterly innocuous, with inconsequential WPA figures ranging from -.011 to +.031. Then… there were the other two.

The first of those was Game 5 of the ALCS. With Boston facing potential elimination, Stanley took the mound in the seventh staring at a one-run deficit. The Angels greeted him with a single, a bunt, a walk, a double, and a sac fly to make it a 5-2 game and push the Sox up to the brink of defeat. Two innings later, his team posted a near-miraculous four-run rally in the ninth to take the lead, and Stanley promptly allowed a single and bunt to put the tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth. It would fall to Joe Sambito to allow that tying run to score, but Stanley put it on base to begin with, and as a result, the Sox had to work much harder for the win than they would have otherwise. (Which, in hindsight, Dave Henderson probably appreciates.)

Game 5 of the ’86 ALCS is understandably famous – but it doesn’t hold a candle to Stanley’s other portentous outing of that postseason. The Red Sox won three of the first five games of the World Series, and seized a 5-3 lead in the tenth inning of Game 6. Two outs later, the Mets strung three singles together, pulling within a run. Stanley was then summoned from the bullpen to preserve the lead, and potentially clinch Boston’s first title in 68 years.

You probably already know the story. Stanley threw a wild pitch to bring in the tying run; Mookie Wilson then grounded to first, where Bill Buckner committed a game-losing error. WPA puts all run prevention efforts at the feet of the pitcher, and Stanley therefore absorbs a -.810 WPA in a critically important game that earns him his place on this list.

Of course, the Red Sox still had another chance at the title – but that’s another story for another pitcher.

6. Ralph Terry, 1960 (-.433 CPA)

Why yes, that is the same Ralph Terry who ranked second on the “best pitching postseasons ever” list a few days ago. This is the effort that his 1962 World Series was recovering from.

Terry’s first Series appearance in 1960 came in Game 4. The Yankees had won Games 2 and 3 by very large margins, and scored the first run of Game 4 in the bottom of the fourth. Terry turned around and gave up three in the top of the fifth, with the especially mortifying part of the rally being the RBI double by opposing pitcher Vern Law. Two innings later, Terry was still on the mound, but allowed a pair of singles (the second of them to Law again) and was pulled with runners at the corners. The bullpen bailed him out of trouble, but the Yankees went on to lose that game, and eventually, as mentioned in the Bob Friend comment, were force into a decisive contest.

We pick up the story of Game 7 where we left it with Friend. The Yankees had just tied it in the top of the ninth, and Terry, who had entered for the last out of the eighth, took the mound in the bottom of the inning hoping to force extras.

He did not force extras. Instead, Bill Mazeroski hit his second pitch of the inning over the very tall left field fence at Forbes Field for the first World Series-ending home run ever, and still the only Game 7 walkoff homer ever hit.

Allowing a historic home run is a very good way to end up on a list like this one.

5. Livan Hernandez, 2002 (-.443 CPA)

The Livan Hernandez postseason that everyone remembers is 1997, when he was 22 years old and won both the NLCS and World Series MVPs. (The Series MVP was an extremely odd choice, given that his ERA in that series was over 5. But I digress.)

CPA sees his 2002 efforts as more significant – just not in a good way. Hernandez was solid in helping the Giants reach the World Series, winning Game 4 of the NLDS (8.1 innings, 3 runs) and starting a victory in Game 4 of the NLCS (6.1 innings, 2 runs). The Series itself… did not go quite as well.

The teams split the first two games, and Hernandez was sent to the mound for Game 3. San Francisco took a 1-0 lead in the first, but Hernandez turned around and allowed four runs in the top of the third, then another two in the fourth before being pulled. Anaheim went on to a 10-4 victory in that game.

Five days later, the series was tied once more at 3 apiece, and Hernandez got the call again for the decisive seventh outing. Once again, the Giants took an early lead, 1-0 in the top of the second – and once again, Hernandez gave it back, allowing a walk and a double to tie it in the home second, then two singles, a hit batter, and a three-run double in the third. San Francisco didn’t score again, and went home with a series-ending 4-1 loss.

Two starts, 5.2 innings, 9 runs allowed, and two losses in a series that the Giants lost in seven. Yeah, that’s a pretty painful effort.

4. Calvin Schiraldi, 1986 (-.444 CPA)

Once again, we’re picking up a story where we’d left off earlier.

Like Bob Stanley, Schiraldi was a member of the Red Sox bullpen in 1986. His early postseason efforts were generally weightier than Stanley’s. In Game 4 of the ALCS, he blew a save in the ninth, then took the loss in the eleventh. He turned around to register a one-run save in Game 5 in the eleventh, and pitched well in both the last game of the ALCS and the first of the World Series.

Schiraldi then remained stapled to his seat in the bullpen for four games. In Game 6, the Sox handed him a 3-2 lead in the eighth. He immediately blew that lead, but threw a scoreless ninth, and Boston pulled ahead in the tenth. As mentioned in the Stanley comment, Schiraldi recorded the first two outs before three straight singles chased him and set up the famed disaster.

The Sox still had one more chance, however. They carried a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning of Game 7. Bruce Hurst gave up three runs at that point to tie it. One inning later, Schiraldi was summoned to preserve the tie.

It went poorly. Ray Knight greeted him with a homer, and a pair of singles sandwiched around a wild pitch brought in another run before Joe Sambito was rushed to the mound in Schiraldi’s place. The Mets brought in a third run that inning and never looked back, going on to an 8-5 triumph.

Stanley has generally absorbed most of the blame for the ’86 Series (at least as far as pitchers go - Bill Buckner obviously gets a pretty big chunk as well), thanks to the eleventh inning of Game 6. But between the eighth inning of Game 6 and the seventh inning of Game 7, there’s plenty of blame to go around in the Sox bullpen – and CPA actually thinks Schiraldi deserves the lion’s share.

3. Walter Johnson, 1925 (-.496 CPA)

Well, that’s a name you expect to see on a list of outstanding pitching performances – just not really this kind of outstanding pitching performances.

Not only is Johnson easily the best pitcher on this list, he’s also the only one to have two legitimately exceptional performances in the Series for which is appears. He put up a complete game 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the 1925 Series, and followed it with a 4-0 shutout win in Game 4.

And then came Game 7. The Senators took a 4-0 lead in the first, and the series must have seemed over at that point. The Pirates scored three runs in the third, but Washington added two more in the fourth for a 6-3 edge.

Pittsburgh kept chipping away, however. A run in the fifth made it 6-4, and two more in the seventh tied it at 6. Roger Peckinpaugh homered to put the Senators in front yet again in the eighth, but the Pirates sealed it with a 3-run rally in the bottom of the inning.

And Walter Johnson gave up all nine of Pittsburgh’s runs, absorbing a complete game 9-7 loss in which he nearly blew a 4-0 lead, then did blow leads of 6-3 (in the seventh) and 7-6 (in the eighth). That’s a WPA of -.806, which is the worst Game 7 WPA ever.

Assess blame in this one how you will; at least some of it should probably be placed on Washington manager Bucky Harris for leaving Johnson on the mound for the entire miserable affair. But it was the Big Train who actually gave up the runs, and that’s why he’s this high on the bad list.

2. Jim Coates, 1960 (-.566 CPA)

Wait, another pitcher from 1960? We already saw the guy who gave up Mazeroski’s homer – what could be bigger than that?

Coates did have two appearances for the Yankees early in the 1960 Series, relieving in Games 1 and 4, both of which were Pirate victories. He had a moderate negative WPA in the first of those appearances (-.055), and a slightly larger positive one in the second (+.081).

And then came Game 7. Much of the story of this justifiably famous contest occurred before any of the three participants listed here took the mound. The Pirates jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, but the Yankees clawed back to take a 5-4 lead in the sixth, then extended it to 7-4 in the top of the eighth.

The bottom of the eighth opened with singles by Gino Cimoli, Bill Virdon, and Dick Groat. (Virdon’s single was a bad hop grounder that hit Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat, turning a potential double play ball into an appearance from a backup infielder.) The third hit brought in a run and chased Bobby Shantz from the game, with Coates being called in to replace him.

A sac bunt and a fly ball moved the tying runs into scoring position, but also left the Yankees one out from escaping their jam. Roberto Clemente singled in a run, and that brought Hal Smith to the plate. Smith, a right-handed batter, had been the short half of Pittsburgh’s catching platoon all year; his counterpart, Smoky Burgess, had been pulled for a pinch runner earlier in the game, necessitating Smith’s entrance. Smith’s slugging percentage against southpaws in 1960 was a sparkling .562 – but Coates was a right-hander, and Smith’s SLG had been over 100 points lower against them.

It didn’t matter in this at bat, as Coates served up a 3-run homer that turned a lead into a deficit. Despite the later walkoff, Smith’s home run was actually the biggest hit in the game, with a WPA of +.636. Coates, of course, gets the additive inverse of that figure applied to his total, and it’s easily enough to earn this spot.

1. Mitch Williams, 1993 (-.606 CPA)

Is there an opposite of “patron saint?” Because, if there is, Mitch Williams holds that position with respect to October closers.

Wild Thing holds the relatively unique distinction of having been ineffective across multiple series in 1993. He blew two saves in the NLCS, allowing an unearned run in the ninth inning of Game 1 (though he then threw a scoreless tenth and took home the win), then entering with a three-run lead, two on and nobody out in the ninth in Game 4 and allowing the Braves to tie it again (Lenny Dykstra’s homer in the tenth handed Williams his second debatably-deserved win of the series). Williams also earned saves in Philly’s other two wins in the LCS, which when combined with the pair of victories he’d stolen from Curt Schilling, proved enough to send the team to the World Series against the defending champion Blue Jays.

The Phillies won Game 2 of that series, with Williams securing a five-out save. But they lost Games 1 and 3, and thus could very much have used a win in the fourth contest. Game 4 was one of the crazier postseason outings in baseball history; both starting pitchers lasted at least 2 innings, and both of them left with single-game ERAs of 27.00 (Todd Stottlemyre allowed 6 runs in 2 innings, Tommy Greene 7 in 2.1). The Phillies rallied to tie the game at 7 in the fourth, then scored five more runs in the fifth to pull well ahead. Entering the eighth inning, their lead was a seemingly comfortable 14-9.

Larry Andersen recorded the first out of the inning, but then allowed a single, a walk, and a double to bring in the game’s twenty-fourth run. Enter Williams, who promptly gave up an RBI single, then a walk to load the bases and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. A strikeout put him one out away from escape, but Rickey Henderson singled in two runs and Devon White tripled in two more, putting the Jays back in front. Mike Timlin and Duane Ward would secure that lead, giving Toronto a 15-14 win and a 3-1 series lead.

Schilling threw a 2-0 shutout in Game 5, keeping the Phils alive. (They didn’t ask him to turn his lead over to Williams this time, and amazingly, it remained intact.) Then came Game 6. Toronto scored three times in the first, and led 5-1 going into the seventh inning. At that point, the Phillie bats awoke. Lenny Dykstra hit a 3-run homer to pull them within one, and his teammates tacked on two more runs against the Toronto bullpen to take a 6-5 lead. Roger Mason threw a perfect seventh, and a trio of relievers loaded the bases in the eighth, but didn’t allow the tying run in.

And then, Williams was inserted for the ninth. Henderson, one of the most patient hitters ever, led off facing one of the wildest pitchers ever, and drew an unsurprising walk. One out later, Paul Molitor singled to move the tying run into scoring position. And of course, Joe Carter followed with a series-ending walkoff homer.

The Phillies somehow endured a pair of narrowly-averted disasters from Williams in the NLCS, and stuck with him for the World Series as well. He rewarded their perseverance with a pair of fully-realized disasters as bad as any pitcher has ever produced in October. It’s a performance that has haunted Philadelphia fans for over two decades, and it fully deserves its place at the top of this dreadful list.

All right, have we got a bad taste firmly established in everyone's mouth now? Because just in case we haven't, we'll be going over the worst single-postseason hitters next time.

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